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«Kelvin Knight Thesis submitted for the qualification of Doctor of Philosophy University of East Anglia School of Literature, Drama and Creative ...»

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Real Places and Impossible Spaces:

Foucault’s Heterotopia in the Fiction of

James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, and

W.G. Sebald

Kelvin Knight

Thesis submitted for the qualification of Doctor of Philosophy

University of East Anglia

School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing

February 2014

This copy of the thesis has been supplied on condition that anyone who consults it is

understood to recognise that its copyright rests with the author and that use of any information derived there from must be in accordance with current UK Copyright Law. In addition, any quotation or extract must include full attribution.

Abstract This thesis looks to restore Michel Foucault’s concept of the heterotopia to its literary origins, and to examine its changing status as a literary motif through the course of twentieth-century fiction. Initially described as an impossible space, representable only in language, the term has found a wider audience in its definition as a kind of real place that exists outside of all other space. Examples of these semimythical sites include the prison, the theatre, the garden, the library, the museum, the brothel, the ship, and the mirror. Here, however, I argue that the heterotopia was never intended as a tool for the study of real urban places, but rather pertains to fictional representations of these sites, which allow authors to open up unthinkable configurations of space.

Specifically, I focus on three writers whose work contains numerous examples of these places, and who shared the circumstance of spending the majority of their lives in exile: James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, and W.G. Sebald. In each case, I argue that these sites figure the experience of exteriority constituted by exile, providing these authors with an alternative perspective from which to perform a particular kind of contestation. In Ulysses, I argue, they allow Joyce to interrogate the notion of a unified Irish identity by bringing into question the space that constitutes the common locus upon which the nation is founded. In Nabokov’s Ada, they help the author to create a world that transcends the discontinuities of his transnational biography, but also serve to contest this unreal world. In Sebald’s fiction, finally, we find a critique of Foucault’s concept. In relation to the Holocaust, he questions the validity of the heterotopia by bringing into doubt the equation of space and thought upon which it is established.





Introduction: Resolving the Paradox of Foucault’s Heterotopia

The Paradox of the Heterotopia

The Reception of the Heterotopia

Geography and Architecture

Literary Studies

Heterotopias in Foucault’s Other Works

Spaces of Confinement and Fantasy

The Library is on Fire

Spaces of the Outside and Contestation

Heterotopias and Exile

Same People, Different Places: The Space of the Nation in Ulysses

“A Kind of Encyclopaedia”



“The Cracked Lookingglass of a Servant”

“What You Damn Well Have to See”

“Ce bordel où tenons nostre état”

Conclusion: “Incommensurability in the Midst of the Everyday”

Nabokov’s Magic Carpet: The Time and Space of Exile in Ada

The Other World of Ada

Rifts in the Texture of Space


The Garden

The Library

The Brothel

The Ship

Conclusion: The Cloudless Course of Demonian History

Extraterritorial Spaces: Placing the Holocaust in W.G. Sebald’s Fiction........ 141

Sebald’s Dissecting Table: Space and Order in The Rings of Saturn

“A Higher Form of Stereometry”: Architecture and the Holocaust in Austerlitz............ 169 Conclusion: A Darkness Never Yet Penetrated



Acknowledgements This thesis was made possible by a studentship awarded by the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. I would like to thank the school for their financial support and encouragement during my years at UEA. I have also benefitted from several grants awarded by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, which allowed me to attend language classes, visit archives, and present at conferences, both in the UK and abroad.

My greatest debt is to my PhD supervisors, Jeremy Noel-Tod, Tommy Karshan, Jo Catling, and Rachel Potter, whose constant guidance and support has been invaluable. I am also grateful to the members of my upgrade panel, Clare Connors and Stephen Benson, for their recommendations when this project was at a formative stage. I would also like to thank my friends and colleagues in the Graduate School, in particular the members of the Critical Writing Workshop, who read drafts of the following chapters at various stages of completion.

Finally, I would like to thank my family and friends, in particular my parents and my girlfriend Sophie, for their continued love and support.

Abbreviations References to the following frequently cited texts appear in parentheses with the

following abbreviations:

A W.G. Sebald. Austerlitz. Translated by Anthea Bell. London: Penguin, 2002.

AA Vladimir Nabokov. Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle. Harmondsworth:

Penguin, 1970.

Michel Foucault. ‘Les Hétérotopies.’ In Le Corps utopique suivi de Les LH

Hétérotopies. Edited, with an Afterword by Daniel Defert. Paris:

Nouvelles Éditions Lignes, 2009. 21-36 Michel Foucault. ‘Of Other Spaces.’ Translated by Jay Miskowiec.

OS Diacritics. 16.1 (Spring 1986): 22-26.

OT Michel Foucault. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. Abingdon: Routledge, 2009.

RS W.G. Sebald. The Rings of Saturn. Translated by Michael Hulse. London:

Vintage, 1998.

U James Joyce. Ulysses. Edited, with an Introduction and Notes by Jeri Johnson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Introduction: Resolving the Paradox of Foucault’s Heterotopia Michel Foucault’s concept of the heterotopia endures as a source of inspiration for geographers, architects, and literary critics alike. Yet it remains notoriously illdefined. He first used the term in the preface to The Order of Things (1966) to describe an impossible and entirely unimaginable space, a notion he illustrates through reference to a fictional Chinese encyclopaedia described by Jorge Luis Borges. In this compendium, titled the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent

Knowledge, animals are said to be classified according to the following categories:

(a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies. (OT, xvi) Where could these groups ever be juxtaposed, asks Foucault, “except in the nonplace of language?” Their overlapping and open-ended qualities preclude their simultaneous co-existence in any possible space, either real or imaginary. The category “(e) sirens,” for example, seems to belong within the adjacent “(f) fabulous,” but could sirens not also be embalmed, or tame, or belong to the Emperor?

And is it not possible, perhaps probable, that a stray dog will also be frenzied? The central category “(h) included in the present classification,” remarks Foucault, “is indication enough that we shall never succeed in defining a stable relation of contained to container between each of these categories and that which includes them all,” while “(j) innumerable” and “(l) et cetera,” violate the finite nature of our thought. Here, then, the heterotopia is defined as an unthinkable space in which “things are ‘laid’, ‘placed’, ‘arranged’ in sites so very different from one another that it is impossible to find a place of residence for them, to define a common locus beneath them all.” (OT, xviii-xix) In December 1966, however, just over six months after the publication of The Order of Things, Foucault gave a radio lecture as part of a series on literature and utopia in which he defined heterotopias as “mythic and real contestations of the space in which we live.” (LH, 25) It began with a recapitulation of the literary pedigree of the notion of utopia itself, before going on to suggest, somewhat paradoxically, that there are some such mythical non-spaces that can be tied to a specific time and place.


For instance, Foucault argues that the image of the magic carpet found in The Thousand and One Nights can be traced back to the microcosmic form of traditional Persian gardens, by way of the rugs that represented these gardens; both spaces allow one to travel to the farthest corners of the earth, so to speak. “One might perhaps be under the impression that novels are set in gardens with ease,” he concludes. “The fact is that novels and gardens are probably born of the same institution.” (LH, 29Further examples of these semi-mythical sites, illustrated by Foucault through reference to a number of works of literature, include the prison, the cemetery, the theatre, the library, the museum, the brothel, the ship and the mirror, real sites that somehow exist separately from all other places and give rise to similarly fantastic conceptions of space.

Finally, as a result of this radio broadcast, Foucault was invited to give a lecture to a group of prominent architects in Paris in March 1967, a proposal he apparently found ridiculous. “Do you remember the telegram that gave us such a laugh,” he asked in a letter, “where an architect said he glimpsed a new conception of urbanism? But it wasn’t in the book; it was in a talk on the radio about utopia. They want me to give it again.”1 Despite Foucault’s laughter, it is in the transcript of this lecture that the concept of the heterotopia has found its widest audience. Although never reviewed for publication by Foucault himself, the text appeared just before his death in 1984 as ‘Des espaces autres’, and in translation two years later as ‘Of Other Spaces’. Since then it has taken on a life of its own, attracting hundreds of interpretations, applications and adaptations, making the heterotopia a familiar trope in critical thought about spatiality, albeit an ambiguous one. Meanwhile, the original radio talk, first published as ‘Les Hétérotopies’ in 2005, but which remains unpublished in English, is most often overlooked, or mistakenly assumed to be synonymous with its later incarnation. Although the two cover much of the same ground, with many passages recreated verbatim, they are by no means identical. Most notably, while ‘Les Hétérotopies’ contains numerous references to works of fiction, ‘Of Other Spaces’ is almost entirely devoid of literary significance, positing the heterotopia as a tool for understanding primarily material sites. In less than a year, then, Foucault’s notion of the heterotopia had shifted from an impossible space to a kind of real place.

Quoted in Daniel Defert, ‘Foucault, Space, and the Architects’ in Politics/Poetics: Documenta X – The Book (Ostfildern-Ruit: Cantz Verlag, 1997), 274


This thesis looks to restore Foucault’s heterotopia to its literary origins, thereby resolving the paradox by which it is seemingly riven, and to examine the changing role and significance of these places – the library, the garden, the mirror, and so on – as a set of literary motifs through the course of twentieth-century fiction.

Principally, it focuses on the work of three writers whose fiction contains many examples of the sites that Foucault lists as heterotopian: James Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov, and W.G. Sebald. In contrast to the groups of animals in Borges’s encyclopaedia, there is no difficulty in finding any common ground on which to bring together these three authors. They each have a relationship of influence with Borges himself, for instance. In a review written in 1925, the Argentine declared himself “the first traveller from the Hispanic world to set foot upon the shores of Ulysses.”2 Despite the obvious contrast between Joyce’s encyclopaedic aesthetic and Borges’s concise essay-like fictions, Patricia Novillo-Corvalán has shown that a number of interesting parallels exist between their careers: “both are renowned for their polyglot abilities, prodigious memories, cyclical conception of time and labyrinthine creations,” she writes, and “for their condition as European émigrés and blind bards of Dublin and Buenos Aires.” That Borges felt an affinity with the Irishman is evidenced by the fact that he was to remain engaged in conversation with Joyce for the rest of his life, repeatedly returning to the Irish author in his fiction, his poetry, and his critical writings. As Novillo-Corvalán argues, “Joyce’s work loomed large throughout all stages of Borges’s oeuvre.”3 In addition to this initial review of Ulysses (1922), he published a translated fragment of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in ‘Penelope’, a review of Finnegans Wake (1939), describing the “terror-stricken praise”4 with which that novel was met, and an obituary of Joyce, in which he suggested that his own creation, Ireneo Funes, a man endowed with an infallible memory, was the ideal reader of Ulysses.5 Nabokov and Borges were contemporaries, both being born in the year 1899, and have often been paired as the creators of similarly metaphysical and labyrinthine worlds, albeit frequently to the displeasure of the Russian. Despite having previously described Borges as one of his favourite writers, and as “a man of infinite talent,” his admiration waned to the point where he Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Joyce’s Ulysses’, in The Total Library: Non-Fiction 1922-1986, ed. Eliot Weinberger, trans. Esther Allen, Suzanne Jill Levine, Eliot Weinberger (London: Penguin, 2001), 12 Patricia Novillo-Corvalán, Borges and Joyce: An Infinite Conversation (London: Legenda, 2011), 4 Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Joyce’s Latest Novel’, in The Total Library, 195 Jorge Luis Borges, ‘A Fragment on Joyce’, in The Total Library, 220


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